What’s the Point of Traveling with Only a Carry-On Bag?

Ever wondered why some people insist on traveling with only a carry-on bag, even if they have the option to check their luggage? Really, what is the point of traveling with a carry-on only?

I recently came across a question on Reddit that asked just that: “What’s the point of carry-on luggage? Isn’t it too small to be useful, especially on international flights? Why not just get a larger suitcase and let the airline check it?

It’s a valid question and one that highlights the ongoing debate between carry-on vs. checked bags.

As someone who has traveled with just a carry-on luggage, I can tell you that there are many advantages to traveling light. Sure, it’s not perfect, and some limitations come with it, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Read on to explore the advantages of traveling with a carry-on bag. 

What is the point of traveling with a carry-on only?

A carry-on bag serves as a practical and efficient means of transporting essential belongings during air travel. Unlike checked luggage, it allows you to keep your belongings with you throughout the journey, significantly reducing the risk of stolen or lost baggage.

Aside from the practical advantages, traveling with carry-on luggage can also save time and money. With a carry-on, travelers can skip long lines at baggage drop-off and baggage claim areas, and even be able to save on checked baggage fees charged by airlines. 

Get more details below:

What is a carry-on bag?

 A carry-on bag, also referred to as cabin baggage or hand luggage, is a type of bag or suitcase that passengers are permitted to bring onto an airplane. These bags, which usually measure 22 x 14 x 9 inches, are typically compact enough to fit in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of the passenger. 

Various types of bags can serve as carry-on luggage, including rolling suitcases, duffel bags, garment bags, and backpacks, as long as they adhere to the size restrictions set by the airline.

What are the benefits of carry-on luggage over checked bags

Here are the benefits of carry-on over checked bags: 

1. Carry-on bags are cost-effective 

I enjoy traveling in a way that is both efficient and economical, and it seems like many people feel the same. One of the reasons why people prefer to bring carry-on luggage when they fly is that it doesn’t cost any money.

Most airlines allow one free carry-on luggage and one free personal item bag, so you can save some money by bringing your bag onboard instead of checking it. 

The problem with checked bags is that you’ll usually have to pay for baggage fees.

These fees can start at $30 for the first checked bag on domestic flights, and additional bags can cost even more. So, it makes more sense to pay for one checked bag and bring hand luggage and a carry-on for free.

But it’s important to note that not all airlines offer free carry-on bags.

According to the guys at The Points Guy, low-cost airlines like Spirit and Frontier charge fees for carry-on bags, while airlines like Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, and Alaska do not.

Unless you hold elite status on the airline you’re traveling with or have a co-branded airline credit card that offers free checked bags, your best option to avoid these fees and save money on your trip is to travel with a carry-on bag. 

2. Avoids the risk of lost or delayed luggage

Traveling with carry-on luggage instead of checked luggage gives you more control over the safety of your belongings and helps avoid the risk of lost or delayed luggage at the airport during air travel.

This is because your carry-on luggage is kept with you, the passenger at all times, reducing the chance of it being misplaced or lost in transit.

Also, many members of travel communities on Reddit, Quora, Tripadvisor, and Flyertalk agree that traveling with a carry-on can help avoid the worry of losing or having your luggage stolen or damaged, as may occur with checked bags.

In contrast, checked luggage is handled by airport staff, loaded onto conveyor belts, and transported between planes, making it more susceptible to being misplaced, lost, or stolen.

In fact, lost or delayed luggage is a common issue that many travelers have faced.

For instance, in April 2022, U.S. airlines mishandled around 220,000 bags, including those that were lost, delayed, damaged, or stolen, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

I like that by bringing a carry-on, I always know where my stuff is, and I can keep a closer eye on them during my journey. This is especially important when carrying valuable items or important documents. 

3. Traveling with a carry-on bag save you a lot of time at the airport

When you travel with a carry-on bag, you can avoid the long lines and wait times associated with checking in your luggage.

You can simply walk up to the gate and board your plane, without having to wait eons for your luggage to be loaded onto the plane or retrieved at the baggage claim.

This is particularly beneficial for frequent business travelers who can quickly depart the plane with their luggage and head directly to their destination, rather than waiting for their checked bags at the baggage carousel, as confirmed by a Quora member. 

Moreover, if you’re planning to travel standby, Leah Rendon from All Getaways in her article on standby flights, recommends carrying a carry-on bag, particularly for international flights. 

This will help you avoid the risk of your bags being on a flight that departs hours earlier or later than yours. 

If you’re traveling to multiple destinations or need to move around quickly, a carry-on bag can be much more convenient than a piece of larger luggage.

They are typically small and lightweight, which makes them easy to carry or wheel around.

It’s easier to carry a small bag up and down stairs or through narrow streets, making it ideal for those who plan to do a lot of exploring. You don’t have to worry about dragging a heavy suitcase behind you, and you can move more quickly through crowds and tight spaces. 

And compared to checked bags, a carry-on bag is much easier to maneuver through crowded airports and onto planes.

This is because it can be carried onto the plane and stored in the overhead compartment, meaning you won’t have to wait at the baggage carousel.

Opting to travel with a carry-on along with a personal item bag can encourage you to pack lighter, which can be a good thing.

Many travelers, such as Lauren Juliff of Never Ending Footsteps, have shared their experiences of traveling for weeks with just a carry-on backpack, such as during her six-week trip hopping across countries in Europe and her month-long excursion in Southern Africa.

In the same vein, on my business trips, I have found it possible to pack only carry-on essentials and travel with just a carry-on, resulting in a more efficient and lighter trip. When I need to bring formal clothing, such as my suits, I opt for carry-on luggage with a suiter, like my Vocier Carry-on, which helps to keep my clothing organized and wrinkle-free.

While there are certainly many benefits to traveling with only cabin luggage, it’s not for everyone. Some travelers may require more space and additional luggage to accommodate their specific needs, especially for those traveling with children or for extended periods.

For instance, if you’re traveling with a baby or a toddler, you may need to bring additional items such as toys, strollers, diapers, or other necessities which may not fit in a carry-on bag. 

If you’re traveling for a short period, and you don’t have a lot of items to carry, then carrying on might be a better option. On the other hand, if you’re traveling for an extended period, and you need to bring a lot of items, then checking your bags might be a more practical choice.

Ultimately, the decision to check your bags or carry them on depends on your personal preference and travel needs.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each option to help you make an informed decision.  

Traveling carry-on only, meaning not checking any bags and instead relying on a small suitcase or backpack that can be brought onto the plane as carry-ons, has become increasingly popular in recent years.

While there are certainly arguments against this approach, there are also several compelling reasons to consider traveling with only carry-ons.

Many forum members on Flyertalk, Reddit, Tripadvisor, and Quora have provided additional insights into the arguments for traveling carry-on only.

Traveler notes that they often travel on itineraries that involve multiple airlines and positioning flights, and packing everything into a carry-on that is beside them at all times reduces the headache of lost baggage or having to recheck baggage with another airline and clear security again.

These forum members also suggest that carrying only a small carry-on bag can be helpful for those who tend to overpack, as it encourages them to pack only the essential items.

However, another member mentions that their decision to pack all in a carry-on or to check a bag is based on what they need for the trip. They don’t see the wisdom in making a rule about what size bag to always use and will check a bag when necessary.

While there are certainly those who take pride in never checking a bag and may come across as smug, others view the decision to travel with only a carry-on as a practical one that should be made based on individual needs and circumstances.

Therefore, whether you opt to travel exclusively with a carry-on or check your bags, I believe it’s a personal decision that should consider factors such as your itinerary, essential items, and individual preferences. 

Why take a carry-on bag?

Taking a carry-on bag instead of a checked luggage can save time, and offer convenience and security. You can skip baggage claims, avoid check-in lines, and not pay any extra fees. Plus, it’s perfect for packing important items and giving you peace of mind while flying.

What is the difference between carry-on and checked-in bag?

The main difference between carry-on and checked luggage is that carry-on bags are smaller bags that you can bring with you onto the plane and keep with you during the flight, while checked luggage is larger bags that you hand over to the airline at check-in and are stowed in the cargo hold of the plane.

Should I fly with just a carry-on?

Deciding to fly with just a carry-on or checked luggage depends on the length and type of trip, airline policies, and of course, your personal preference. A carry-on bag can be convenient and cost-effective for short trips, but a piece of a large suitcase may be necessary for longer trips or specific purposes.

Does a backpack count as a carry-on?

Certainly! Most airlines permit passengers to bring two items with them onboard – a carry-on and a personal item bag. So, as long as your carry-on backpack adheres to the airline’s size regulations and can fit comfortably in the overhead compartment, it qualifies as a carry-on.

What is not allowed in a carry-on?

Certain items are not allowed in a carry-on bag due to safety and security reasons. The following items are generally prohibited in a carry-on bag:

  • Sharp objects such as knives, scissors, and razor blades (excluding safety razors)
  • Firearms and explosives
  • Flammable substances such as gasoline, aerosol sprays, and lighter fluid
  • Liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters)
  • Illegal drugs and other controlled substances

You can head to the TSA website for a more conclusive list.

Closing Thoughts

What is the Point of Traveling with a Carry-On Only?

So, is it possible to travel with just a carry-on bag?

Certainly! It is entirely possible to travel with just carry-on luggage, and many travelers choose this option to avoid the hassle of checking bags. By packing light and adhering to airline size and weight restrictions, it’s feasible to fit all of your necessary items into a carry-on bag and still enjoy a comfortable trip.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that traveling with only a carry-on may not be practical for every journey or individual. If you’re traveling for an extended period or carrying bulky items or equipment, you may require more than what a carry-on can accommodate.

Over to you. Ever traveled with just a piece of carry-on luggage? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

And for any other general questions on carry-on luggage, you are sure to find answers in my ultimate guide to Carry-on luggage post.

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